The new buzzword in legal education is practice "ready." Check a few websites or glossy brochures, and the word "ready" will jump out at you. I think for most people, this means clinics or other experiential courses. I recently had an experience that made me think that readiness is not just a third-year clinic.
A few weeks ago, I heard from a student as he was going through multiple rounds of interviews for a legal job at a financial firm. Though law firm hiring seems to still follow the on-campus interivew -to- callback model, this process was much more like business school hiring. One fairly early round involved analyzing a bond (trust indenture and security agreement) over three days. I called around to counsel at hedge funds and other firms to see if they had ever done this, and the response was "Wow, we don't do that, but it's a great idea". And this was when I realized that we do not prepare our students for this type of interviewing.
Historically, most student interviewing was in the fall of second year, when students had just taken the first-year basics and were just starting other courses. Some interviewing, and more these days, takes place in the fall of third year, after two years of coursework. Of course, many students now are interviewing even after graduation, but I think the basic expectations of interviewers has usually been that the interview is not designed to test any type of legal knowledge. Law students, particularly those who were given offers in their third semester, were hired on the basis of their grades, resume and personality. Summer clerkships would sort them further, if at all.
Now, however, students are being interviewed later and for different kinds of jobs. It seems very reasonable that students might be expected to show some level of knowledge about the field they are entering. And this means that law schools need to change. Law students cannot find themselves in the fall of their third year without having gotten on a curricular path. Chicago-Kent just announced a program for students to start to specialize in their first year. For those of us who enjoy the liberal arts atmosphere of the "teach lawyers how to learn like lawyers" approach, specialization so early is anathema. But I think that has to change. Teaching in a way that produces third years who still haven't taken the basic classes to try out for jobs in their field may not work in a changing interview environment. But yes, this means that students will have to choose a field earlier instead of later, and instead of letting their field choose them when they show up at their jobs.
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